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'Disappointment' as clinic closes

7/17/2014

By KALEY CONNER

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

VICTORIA -- The only medical clinic in this community of approximately 1,200 closed its doors July 1, leaving area residents voicing some "respectful disappointment," said Doug Frihart, a senior regional operations officer for Via Christi Villages Inc.

Via Christi has operated the Victoria Clinic since 2007; it previously had different management. Frihart said a primary reason for the clinic's closure was the inability to recruit a full-time nurse practitioner.

"We found it increasingly difficult to maintain the five-and-a-half days a week of services that the clinic really needed to have for it to be viable," Frihart said.

The clinic was staffed by two part-time nurse practitioners and expanded operating hours a few years ago to include a half-day on Saturdays.

Between Jan. 1, 2013, and May, the clinic had approximately 570 unique users, many of whom made multiple visits to the clinic. Approximately 13 percent of that volume was Victoria residents, with more than half of patients traveling from Hays.

"I was surprised when we saw that number," he said. "I really anticipated the majority of users would have been from Victoria."

The clinic's Saturday service also proved popular.

Public notice was issued in June to alert patients of the upcoming closure.

Victoria resident Jeff Hertel said the closure is a source of concern for many in the community.

"It was so convenient for a lot of the students getting their physicals for sports and stuff, and there were people who came from Hays to get their physicals there," he said. "Even the older folks would just go over there because they're getting to the age they can't get out on the highway anymore."

In addition to the two part-time APRNs, who Frihart said also were employed elsewhere, the clinic staffed approximately five support staff who worked "as needed," he said.

"The practitioners and support staff were awesome," he said. "It was their ministry, and I can't stress enough how hard they worked to make that clinic be successful."

Via Christi is a statewide health care operation, encompassing hospitals and clinics -- mostly in the Wichita area -- and a chain of assisted living/skilled nursing facilities throughout the state. The company acquired nursing homes in Hays and Victoria several years ago and combined them into a new Via Christi Village facility in Hays.

The medical clinic in Victoria continued operating under the senior living arm of the company, making the clinic a bit of an anomaly, Frihart said.

"This was something that we took on without a great deal of expertise in the matter," he said. "We did look for additional new sponsors for that clinic."

Prior to closure, Via Christi solicited other area health facilities about taking over sponsorship of the clinic, Frihart said, declining to name which entities were approached.

Via Christi also approached the Victoria City Council in June to notify officials the clinic would be closing, said Mary Pfeifer, city clerk.

It also was discussed whether the city could be a sponsor for the clinic, but that option has been dismissed for now.

Council members were concerned because "we don't have the personnel or the knowledge of how to run a health clinic," Pfeifer said.

Hertel said he thinks the clinic provided an important service, and he would like to see a clinic re-established in the future.

"I talked to a lot of people just around town, and they all just can't believe it happened," he said.